Wednesday, 31 July 2013

So what happens now? The life of a shiny new graduate

In the first half of this month I passed two huge milestones: I turned 21, and I graduated from university. I expected both of these things to leave me with a sense of pride, of having achieved something, and to provide me with a chance to reflect back on all the experiences I have had thus far.  Of course, the pride has come, but it has been mixed in with a lot of very strange emotions that nobody warns you about.

 Happy birthday to me
My sister, dad, me and mum at my birthday party

My birthday was significant in that, as with any birthday but especially with the ‘big ones’, it gave me a chance to reflect. It has obviously come at a point in my life where everything is changing, having finished formal education for good, so some of the reflections have been even more poignant. The main thing my birthday provided was a chance to think about my friendships. At my party were the friends I currently hold close, and whom I feel sum up the past 21 years. There’s Alice, the friend who’s constantly been there since we were 6 months old – we had our own language and everything. There’s then school friends: Laura, Emily, Helena and Alex are my ‘group’ from school who I talk to and see all the time, plus Naomi, Harry and Rosie who I’ve stayed properly in touch with. Moving on, I joined a youth theatre group, which is where the next lot appeared: Jen, Alex (or ‘Sandbach’) and of course Andy, my boyfriend of more than 4 and a half years. Chuck in Andy’s best friend Matt, Londoner Sarah, and Hope, who I met only months ago, and I’ve got a pretty fab group around me.

 Andy and me at my party
Laura, Helena, Emily, me and Alex

Completing university, and then graduation itself only days after my birthday, was an enormously proud moment. I have left the University of York with a 2:1 in English Literature, and I know I have worked so, so hard to get here. University is hard, and brilliant, and tough, and emotional, and it really does (cliché alert) teach you an awful lot about you as a person. I did a mini-series reflecting on university after I handed in my dissertation, so you can take a look at that HERE.


However, in with the pride, there’s a whole other mixture of emotions. All the way through our lives in education, there is a clear path, and if you work hard you will succeed and achieve highly. Work for good GCSEs, then good A Levels, to get you to a good university, where you work to complete your degree. All those years of hard work have led up to this moment… but what IS this moment? Suddenly, there’s no path. There’s no multiple choice question with just a few possible directions. It’s now completely up to you. And that’s a really scary thought. You’ve gone from having everything mapped out to having nothing at all, yet years and years of adulthood looming ahead. Where are you going to get money? Where will you live? Will you ever get that ‘dream job’? Will anyone even offer you the ‘job from hell’ to get you on that path?

On the days I get really fed up, I feel almost cheated. Teachers have always repeated that mantra of work hard and you’ll get what you deserve, but those results are no longer immediately obvious. When you’re job-hunting, or receiving rejections, or having letters ignored, it’s easy to feel completely demoralised. There are some days you just want to shout from the rooftops: Look at my degree and exam results! Look at my work experience! Look how much I want a job! But your voice can feel lost in with the thousands of others chanting exactly the same thing.

Alice, Jagoda, me, Cat and Rebecca

On more rational days, though, you realise that this time is scary, but it can also offer opportunities. You can get out there and show who you are. You can travel. You can sit in reality and consider what it is that will really drive you forward, and what it is you want to work towards. Although it doesn’t seem like it right this second, I will find a job that’s shaped for me. I’ll find a role where I can use the skills I’ve learned, and there will be employers out there who value my track record and my work ethic. We still have a lot of years to work hard and plough our own new tracks. And this is the thing we need to keep reminding ourselves. We can do it, and we will do it. Sometimes we just have to be a little more patient. 

Me and my amazing parents

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Birthday Dress Hunt, featuring Miss Selfridge's The Dressing Room

On 7th July, I turned 21, and the night before we had planned a big party at a local lounge bar. Of course, this was an occasion that called for a new dress, so my mum and I set off for a day at The Trafford Centre. I didn’t really have a set idea in my mind of what I wanted, only that I wanted something different from all of the other dresses I own, and something a bit special.

The Trafford Centre is a great place to shop, especially when you arrive as soon as it opens on a weekday. It is spacious, beautifully decorated, and really offers a bit of everything.

Mum and I weaved in and out of plenty of shops, and fairly early on in the day approached Miss Selfridge. At the door, we were greeted by one of the sales assistants, who handed us a card for the new, free, personal shopping service, The Dressing Room. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to try on some things I wouldn’t usually pick up, and get some advice from someone that knows all the dresses, so I decided to go for it.

I was greeted by Saffron, and immediately felt at ease as she was smiley, approachable and looked immaculate. In fact, I loved the red lace pencil skirt she was wearing so much I returned to buy it a week or so later. She started by asking what the event was and what kind of styles I usually wear, then grabbed a mini rail as we did a circuit of the shop. Sometimes she would point at things and ask what I thought, and other times she’d add something to the rail, declaring that I ‘must try it’.

I was then shown into the reserved changing room, of course named The Dressing Room, and Saffron, my mum and the mini rail set up camp just outside the door. We probably had about 8-10 dresses to try, in all different styles, many of which I would not necessarily have picked up for myself. Sometimes a new pair of eyes is exactly what you need, as with each dress I tried on I realised there were a whole set of dress styles that suited my figure, that I would originally have walked straight past.

The Dressing Room has plenty of mirrors, magazines and candles to create a lovely atmosphere to try on the outfits, and it was really spacious. Saffron has also brought me through a pair of heels, so I could get the proper effect of the dresses. She wasn’t pushy at all, which was what I had been wary of. Certain dresses she loved on me, and others she agreed weren’t quite the right fit, or she could tell I wasn’t comfortable in.

The dress we decided as the favourite was a dress I would never, ever have tried on. On the hanger, it looks incredibly fussy, which would immediately put me off, as I prefer classic, clean shapes. However, as soon as it was on, the detailing spread out and it fit perfectly. It was also a colour I’d never have picked, but really went with my hair and skin tone.

Once the decision was made, Saffron wasn’t pushy at all, and said they could keep it on hold and I could return for it later if I wanted.

Mum and I set out for a further explore around various shops, but I compared every dress to the Miss Selfridge one, and so knew we would be returning very shortly…

In the meantime, we were hungry, and decided to try Pesto. It is part of a small chain, and basically offers Italian tapas. There was a lunchtime special of three small dishes for about £7.50, so that’s what we opted for. The food was delicious. Three dishes each was a bit overwhelming, but it was so lovely to be able to sample a variety of things rather than have a single big bowl of pasta. We also had great service, and it’s definitely somewhere I would return to.

About 3 or 4 hours after my session at The Dressing Room, we returned to Miss Selfridge to pick up the dress. As we reached the front of the queue and asked for my reserved dress, the ‘personal’ service continued. The girl on the till was so friendly, asking what kinds of things we’d tried on, and she seemed genuinely excited by this new service, talking about the training she had received. It was lovely to feel like this personalised element was continuing even when I returned later on, and I was really, really impressed.

I think The Dressing Room is only available at The Trafford Centre and London stores, but I’m sure it’s a scheme that will eventually be rolled out. I discovered new styles I would never have given a chance before, and loved my birthday dress.

Paired with a pair of nude heels from Office, I was more than ready to celebrate my 21st birthday.

Has anyone else tried personal shopping?

Sophie x
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